Two recent trials of herbal remedies highlight why it is important to do studies of their effectiveness rather than just blindly trusting that they will work and be safe because they are ‘natural.’ The first is a trial in China of a traditional remedy as part of a regimen for treating Parkinsons. The remedy, a traditional Chinese herb used to treat hypertension in Chinese medicine, called Gouteng, was tested in conjunction with normal Parkinsons therapy, a drug called levodopa, and was discovered to alleviate side effects and also helped patients communicate a lot better. It is important to note that this is not a cure, or even the main treatment, but it does look in these initial trials like it will make levodopa more effective and perhaps prolong the treatment – an important consideration since the effectiveness of levodopa wears off over time.
So, in this case a herbal remedy, tested properly is showing promise in combination with another drug.
But in another study, a herbal remedy long used in Japan to treat symptoms of menopause, called keishi-bukuryo-gan, didn’t fare so well. The herbal remedy is actually a mixture and includes cinnamon and peach pits. The study compared women taking a placebo and those taking a low dose of the remedy and some taking a high dosage. All groups improved noticeably over the course of the study but by equivalent amounts with no significant difference between them statistically. In other words, the herbal remedy effectively did nothing. In addition, the herbal remedy had a side effect of diarrhea.
The proponents of the herbal remedy feel that the study was not conducted in ideal conditions because the remedy is supposed to be prescribed under certain diagnostic conditions under a Japanese alternative therapy regimen called Kampo. But since they were involved in setting the study up, the complaints after the study produced results they didn’t like seem a little sour.
The bottom line is that herbal remedies are drugs and should be tested and treated properly and scientifically in the same way as other drugs. many clearly have therapeutic benefits and others do not and can even have negative consequences.